Monday ,25 September
The rather damp and dismal morning did nothing to dampen the spirits of the record number of members who had signed up for five days in the Lake District, and were gathered in Fairfield Road, awaiting the arrival of the coach. Sadly, one couple had to cancel at the last minute, due to illness, and it was already known that Jackie and Alan Arnot would not be able to join us, Jackie having undergone a major operation only a week earlier. They were all very much missed and the good news was that Jackie’s operation had gone well. Due to the weather and traffic conditions the coach was a little delayed but, as soon as it arrived, Mark, the same driver who had looked after us on last year’s holiday, lost no time getting his passengers and their luggage safely stowed on board.
Our major stop of the day was at Moseley Old Hall in Staffordshire. Here Mark’s patience and driving skills were truly stretched as he negotiated an incredibly sharp right-hand turn into an almost impossibly narrow lane. After countless manoeuvres, we finally reached the Hall and, not surprisingly, were greeted with the words “You shouldn’t have come that way!” They insisted they had sent Paul directions for the “proper” approach; obviously they&rssquo;d got lost in the ether!
Moseley Old Hall is a farmhouse with small cosy rooms, furnished in Elizabethan domestic style. It’s greatest claim to fame is that it is one of the places where Charles II found refuge during his six weeks as a fugitive after his defeat at the battle of
Worcester. The knowledgeable guides gave us the full story of the King’s escape, and showed us the
bed on which he rested, and the cramped space under a cupboard, where he was concealed when
the Parliamentary soldiers arrived.
We left the Hall by the much easier route and reached Grange-over-Sands in the early evening. The Cumbrian Grand Hotel certainly lived up to its name, being a palatial edifice
constructed in the days when the railway was opening up new regions to both business and holiday makers. Many rooms had a view of Morecombe Bay, some even had a small balcony. Dinner in the ornate dining room matched the splendour of the surroundings.
Tuesday 26 September
We woke to better weather conditions than those of yesterday, and after breakfast were soon on our way to Grasmere. This is the area which gave Wordsworth much of his inspiration, and we visited the Wordsworth Museum, which provides many insights into the life and work of the famous poet. We also visited nearby Dove Cottage. Starting as the home of Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, it became, over the course of eight years, also the home to Wordsworth’s wife, their first three children, and his wife’s sister. It must have been a busy, bustling place, no wonder Wordsworth sometimes took himself off for long walks in the hills.
Shortly after noon we left for the short journey to Sizergh (apparently pronounced SIZER). This medieval house has something of the outward appearance of a castle, but inside it is a warm, cosy family home, with oak panelling and many other examples of fine craftsmanship in all the rooms. One of its greatest treasures is its collection of Gillows furniture. Sizergh has been the home of the Strickland family since 1239, one of the longest examples of habitation by the same family in the UK. It was a special delight to see everyday items and family photos scattered among the precious antiques.
Wednesday, 27 September
Another promising day weather-wise, and after breakfast, we set out on our longest road journey of the holiday, to Coniston Water. On arrival at Gondola Jetty we boarded the Gondola, which is a restored Victorian steam powered yacht, for a short cruise on Coniston Water. Wealthy Victorians enjoyed luxury travel in the vessel’s opulent salons. For us latter-day travellers there was the opportunity to watch the gleaming steam engine in operation, but only through a viewing window, to the disappointment of some members who would have liked a more “hands-on” experience.
Cruise over, we re-boarded our coach for the short journey to Hawkshead. The unflappable Mark negotiated the narrow roads with his usual consummate driving skill, though with occasional flashbacks to Moseley Old Hall! Hawkshead has associations with both Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, Wordsworth having attended the town’s grammar school. However, the main attraction is the Beatrix Potter Gallery, a seventeenth century house which once served as an office for Beatrix’s solicitor husband. Now every room is filled with objects relating to her life and work, and examples of the artwork she used to illustrate her books.
Moving on again, we visited Hill Top Farm, the property Beatrix purchased with the proceeds from her first book. She took inspiration from the surrounding countryside for many of her other books, and every room at the Farm contains reference to the mini-masterpieces with which she illustrated her stories.
Our schedule indicated that we would return to the hotel earlier than on the other days, giving us some free time to spend in Grange-over-Sands. Paul had, however, teased us with the promise of a surprise treat – alas it did not work out. His plan was for us to visit the house in Coniston which was home to John Ruskin in his final years (with a guided tour and tea and biscuit).
Having made all the arrangements, the staff then realised we were a coach party and the house is inaccessible to coaches. We all felt really sorry for Paul, but all enjoyed the free time in different ways, many taking advantage of the opportunity to explore Grange-over-Sands.
Thursday, 28 September
Another bright, sunny morning, probably the best day of the week. We boarded the coach for the short journey to Bowness, where there was time to look round before embarking on
another “watery” experience, this time a boat trip to Lakeside on Lake Windermere. After leaving the coach we boarded a steam train on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway, the time table being planned to connect with the lake cruises. We enjoyed a scenic ride of about three and a half miles in a train made up of 1950s carriages, headed by the steam locomotive. The former Furness branch line is now a family run business and proudly boasts ownership of the last two remaining Fairburn Class 4 MT tank engines. Back at Lakeside we again boarded our coach for the short journey to Holker Hall.
There was not time in one afternoon to do justice to Holker Hall, a magnificent stately home with award winning gardens and breath-taking views. The rooms contain furniture and ceramics by names such as Hepplewhite and Wedgwood, while the most spectacular outdoor feature is the cascade, which leads to a statue of Neptune, created by seventeenth-century Italian craftsmen. The day was co-incidentally, my birthday, and I was very touched by the stream of good wishes received throughout the day, culminating in a card signed by everyone and presented at the evening meal, followed by a rendition of “Happy Birthday”.
Friday, 29 September
Sadly, our last day, and we needed to be well organised if we wanted our luggage to be taken to the coach by the hotel staff, and had to have our cases outside our rooms by 7 am. This was because the staff moving the luggage were also the ones serving breakfast. We appreciated they would not be able to do two things at once! However, it all worked well and by 9 am we and our luggage were all on the coach, ready for the start of the long journey home. Unfortunately, that was the last thing that did go to plan that day.
Our first problem was that the section of the M6 on which we planned to travel, had been closed due to an accident. We diverted to the A6 and planned to pick up the M50 later, but that had been closed due to a lorry on fire. After much discussion and consulting of maps by Paul and Mark, the decision was to try a route via Cheadle, but it didn’t work too well. Our destination for the afternoon was Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire, which we should have reached soon after mid-day, giving time for a meal and a leisurely look round the property before leaving at 3pm. After several unsuccessful attempts at phoning the house, Paul decided we should abandon the visit and simply stop for a meal at a service station. However, after one last attempt Paul got through to Sudbury Hall, explained the situation, and they said they would keep some hot food for us.
We finally reached Sudbury Hall soon after 2 pm and were able to spend a little over an hour there. The Hall dates from the Restoration period and has murals and elaborate plaster- work by many famous names, also carvings by Grinling Gibbons. One of its treasures is a set of paintings of the mistresses of Charles II, who all looked rather similar (or was that just the effect of the tedious journey?).
We had left Sudbury Hall by 3:30 pm, so were almost back on schedule, but further delays awaited us on the A14, simply hold-ups due to the volume of traffic. It was quite dark and somewhat later than we originally expected when we finally reached Chelmsford, but all our sympathies were with Mark, who still had to take the coach back to Colchester.
Many thanks to Paul for organising five wonderful days of lakes, hills, ancient stone cottage, dry-stone walls, sheep and, of course, excellent company. What more could anyone ask?